12 Minutes

Way back in the olden days (2015), a conceptual game called 12 Minutes was pitched. The concept was that you’d be stuck in the same 12 minute time loop and need to find a way to break out. The game released on Thursday, and I dove in headfirst.

Time loop as a story mechanic is really hard to get right. You often need some sort of book to keep track of what’s going on. Only a few movies have tried it. Primer has like 40+ timelines on the go at one point. ARQ is a simplified time loop film, and really focuses on the anticipation of the next steps, similar to Edge of Tomorrow (which is almost a video game). Groundhog Day, well… that’s a form of hell if you think about it.

In terms of games with this model… is Mario Bros a time loop game? I mean, you die, and the loop restarts. Most incremental games have actions in one loop impacting the next. It’s so common we don’t think about it anymore. But in the strictest sense, where the purpose of the game is to break the loop, really Outer Wilds is the only one that comes to mind that did this in any way successfully. Like GotY successful.

That’s a heck of a bar to reach for any indie game! I guess that explains all the years of dev work. And the results…

A game that merges interactive fiction and point and click adventure mechanics, with incremental changes on each loop. There’s no “speed run” this game, you need to go through at least a dozen loops before you have enough bits and bobs to get close to the finish line. More than once I thought I was close, then quickly realized that the rabbit hole went even deeper.

The voice acting is solid (hard not to, how did they get these actors?), and there are some QoL aspects that let you speed through dialogue if you’ve heard it already. The graphics are passable, but it’s not like that truly matters in this type of game. Every puzzle has a logical answer, with plenty of breadcrumbs unveiled as the game goes. Even the music here is darn near perfectly placed to convey the emotional tone.

Side track on puzzlers for a minute. Some of them suffer due to size, or ridiculous solutions (Sierra!). 12 Minutes takes place in an apartment, one you can’t leave as it resets the loop. This smaller footprint dramatically reduces frustration as you know the answer is right in front of you, it can’t be anywhere else. And with only a dozen or so items to collect, it’s more about the order of using the items than the items themselves. Like if you do an action in front of an NPC, they will see you, but if you close the door, then you’re good to go. And if you’ve seen text before, it highlights in a different color, so you know what’s new or not. And the dialogue is the real puzzle here, every puzzle is about unlocking a new part of dialogue.

I will say that the only downside here is when you’re focusing on actions near the end of a loop and need to restart. Getting back to that point can feel a bit long, especially when you’re talking about 1 action that takes 2 seconds to perform. It does mean that you have to be considerate of time management and sort of plan out what you’re trying to do before you do it. There was a point where I was stuck in what felt the same loop for an hour, just not quite sure of where to go next. But that’s no different than being stuck in the belly of a whale, trying to tickle it’s “uvula”. 1988 and I am STILL ticked off at that.

I can’t talk about the plot at all. Really, any indication here would spoil the ride. I can say it’s a good ride, bordering on great.

I think the best compliment I can give 12 Minutes is that it’s one of the best examples of interactive fiction to come along in a long time, supported through a time loop mechanic that really delivers. This is the sort of game that can only come from an indie developer, and one I’m sure others will try to copy.

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